Internet users are expected to face more breakdowns in the coming days as the draining out of floodwater, which is causing cuts and damage to fiber-optic cables, continues in upper Sindh.
A technical report submitted by Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) to the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom on Wednesday stated that repeated internet outages were mainly because of flood relief efforts in the Sukkur division where fiber-optic cables were being damaged mainly by heavy machinery used to clear water in Sindh.
Taking notice of repeated internet outages in recent days, the ministry had sought technical reports from PTCL as well as the telecom sector regulator Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).
The PTA said the multiple cuts in fiber-optic cables were not due to any sabotage or criminal activity but because of digging trenches at various places to divert or drain out floodwater.
The PTCL report said the last disruption in internet service reported on Aug 22 and 23 was due to multiple cuts in Ghotki, Khairpur, and Sukkur districts. The most serious damage was reported in tehsil Ranipur of Khairpur district.
Minister for IT and Telecom Syed Aminul Haque said initial reports suggested that the situation was serious and more such incidents could be expected in near future.
“Due to extensive flooding, most of the pathways of underground cables have been submerged, as relief workers or locals were trying to divert floodwater by digging trenches on roads and footpaths,” he added.
“The ministry has directed PTCL to declare an emergency so that repair work could be initiated when any such incident is reported in the system, while the PTA is constantly monitoring the quality of service,” the minister said.
The total internet usage in Pakistan was around six terabytes, mainly supplied through seven submarine internet cable systems, of which four are operated by PTCL, two by Transworld Associates, and a new cable system that recently came online, owned by a Chinese company. Almost 80 percent of this internet traffic comes through more than 50,000km of widespread PTCL network.
PTCL’s cable network has a capacity to carry 6.5-terabyte data, but only 70pc of the total capacity is utilized so that traffic could be shifted to other cables in case of damage.
Apart from its own retail internet service, a large number of internet service providers (ISPs), including Storm Fibre and Nayatel, buy bulk internet from PTCL, and any damage to the company’s cable system results in internet service disruptions and degradation for customers of other ISPs too.
A senior official of the ministry said cable damages and service degradations are reported almost daily, but the situation becomes serious when optic-fiber cables get hit. The official said, “As the cables were damaged in upper Sindh, the internet service in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and some areas of Balochistan was affected, but there was no such issue for consumers in Karachi, Hyderabad, Gwadar, and other districts of southern Sindh.”